3rd Sunday of Advent December 17, 2023
Revelation 21:9-13, 22-27
56, 62, 61, 359
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Zacharias prophesied: “Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, whose blessed birth we will shortly celebrate, and whose glorious return we joyously anticipate, dear fellow redeemed:
We once again today return to the hymn we have just sung in order to better prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas. We are doing so by considering the pictures of Jesus found in each of the four stanzas of this familiar hymn. This evening we want to consider the thoughts contained in the picture-prayer: “O COME, THOU DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH!” Here, too, we have a picture, which like “the Rod of Jesse” in the second stanza may not be as familiar to you as was the name “Emmanuel,” which was presented in the first stanza. It is a picture, however, the meaning of which is found frequently in Scripture and which you can observe in nature, for you see the word “dayspring” could also be translated “dawn” or “sunrise.” Jesus, who declared Himself to be the “Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), is here pictured as that first and early light, which removes the darkness and the shadows of night. Let us consider, first, the context in which we find this wonderful name of Jesus. Then, second, let us consider how Jesus so ably fulfilled this picture in His ministry. And, finally, let us consider the prayer of our hymnwriter and how it applies so appropriately to our lives.
The words of our text are part of the hymn of praise uttered by Zacharias the priest after the birth of his son, John the Baptizer. You will recall that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias while he ministered in the temple and informed him that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and bear a son in her old age. Zacharias had doubted the possibility of this miracle and consequently was struck dumb and was unable to speak until John’s birth. When John was born, Zacharias’ first words were a hymn of praise to God in which he delighted in his Savior God and praised His name. Our text forms the final two verses of that hymn of praise. In it Zacharias identifies Jesus as the “Dayspring from on high!”
What did Zacharias have in mind? He appears to be referring to a prophecy of Isaiah which says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) What was this great shining light to reveal? The apostle Paul would later write to the Christians in Galatia: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Prior to Jesus’ birth God allowed human beings to attempt on their own to deal with the issue of sin and the problems it caused. Sadly, but as we might expect, all human efforts failed miserably. In ancient times prior to the birth of Jesus, the Egyptians used false religion, the Babylonians used law, the Assyrians used violent intimidation, the Persians used organization, the Greeks used philosophy, and the Romans used disciplined force to deal with the problems of sin and to remove the spiritual darkness of this world. They all failed!
After all these human attempts were exhausted and the problem of sin had not been solved and death continued to ravage human lives, God mercifully sent His Son—the Dayspring, the Dawn, the Sunrise from on high, to do what no individual human being or human society had been able to accomplish. Jesus came into this world darkened by sin and devastated by death and was placed “under the law” (Galatians 4:4) in order that He might keep that law perfectly in our place and thereby serve as our substitute. We now inherit Jesus’ righteousness by faith. Jesus suffered, once again as our substitute, the consequences of our sins on the cross and paid the price for those sins. We receive the benefit of Jesus’ work by faith—the removal of all our sins. Instead of allowing us to live on in the darkness of sin and death, Jesus has indeed become the sunrise of our souls and the souls of all who receive Him by faith!
In His ministry, as already mentioned, Jesus identified Himself as the “Light of the World.” (John 8:12) He did so within an interesting context—the account of the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees, to undermine Jesus’ authority and popularity among the people and to find an offense worthy of Roman intervention and arrest, brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They demanded from Jesus an immediate sentence upon her. You will recall that Jesus did not answer right away, but rather stooped down and began drawing lines in the sand. When they continued with their demands, Jesus stood up and stated: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7) He then stooped down again and continued drawing in the sand. Slowly all the woman’s accusers, condemned by their own consciences left, leaving just Jesus, the woman, and those who had been with Jesus before his enemies approached. Jesus then assured the woman of her forgiveness, admonished her to sin no more, and then told those who were with Him, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The light of Jesus exposes sin, as committed by the woman, but it also exposes hypocrisy like that found within the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees. But it most of all reveals grace, forgiveness, and the good and proper will of God for our lives! This is what the evangelist John was referring to when he wrote concerning Jesus: “Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:16-18)
My dear friends, sin and guilt can so easily fill our lives and darken our souls, but it is God’s desire that we receive the fullness of grace that can only be discovered when we behold the light of Jesus! We must confess that by nature we are lost and condemned creatures. We are no more able to save ourselves or our society than the ancient peoples mentioned earlier. Even after we have been brought to faith, we must confess with the apostle Paul that our sinful flesh prevents us from always doing what is right and always shunning that which is wrong (Romans 7:18-20). It is so easy, having fallen into sin, for Satan to convince us to attempt to lie our way out rather than to speak the truth and accept godly correction. It is so easy to find excuses and thereby convince ourselves that we need not confess our sins or seek the forgiveness of our God and our fellow human beings.
Without the Spirit’s power and guidance, we cannot grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. It is so easy to be lured by the bright but false lights of this world’s darkness into a sinful lifestyle—to lose our first love for the Lord, as did the ancient church of Ephesus as described in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 2:4). It is the goal of Satan to cause us to lose faith when we as confessing children of God fall prey to and become the victims of the darkness of this world. We can so easily begin to feel overwhelmed by sin. But it is then that we must remember that our Savior is the DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH! He has come to disperse sin and death. He has come and destroyed the power behind all darkness—Satan. He has come to bring us light and joy, peace and happiness! The apostle Peter assures us: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
That “marvelous light” is Jesus—the DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH! Our theme this evening is a prayer—O COME, THOU DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH! This beautiful picture of Jesus as a sunrise is obviously also taken from nature—from an event which occurs once each day wherever you might find yourself. It is available for all to see and is intended by God to move us to think of Jesus as each day begins! There are truly few things in nature, in my opinion, as beautiful and as inspirational as that!
When I was boy growing up in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, I delivered the morning edition of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune paper. My route took me each day during the early hours of the morning to the east end of that community. One of the homes to which I delivered a paper lay on the very edge of town. As a ten-year-old boy, I thought that home was a mansion. It was much bigger than the home my family lived in at the time. When I was privileged to visit Sleepy Eye some years ago, I realized that home is quite modest by today’s standards. On the east side of that home’s lot years ago stood a row of tall evergreens. I would often arrive to deliver the newspaper at that house just before sunrise. The sky would be a beautiful mixture of reds, pinks, yellows, and blues with those evergreens producing dark silhouettes against the dawning sky. I could not imagine a more beautiful sight—the rising sun’s light dispelling the darkness of night and revealing the beauty of God’s newly created day!
What a gorgeous picture of our Savior and His work on our behalf! You have heard the phrase—it is always darkest just before dawn. When night falls upon us spiritually and the weight of sin—either our own or the sins of others—descends upon us, we yearn for the peace and the freedom that only Jesus can bring. As the light of Jesus’ breathtaking declarations of love arise within our hearts and are received into our minds, the dark silhouettes of sin begin to fade. Jesus the Dayspring from on high opens before us a new and brighter day filled with blessings and beckoning with opportunities!
How wonderful then to pray with the hymnwriter: “Oh, come, Thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” Yes, come Lord Jesus and bless us with Your light! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.